If you could travel back in time, what would you change about your life? Of course, if time travel has been developed, then you might already have done this at least once and the whole space-time continuum thhas been twisted in and around itself into some horribly contorted knot as you've tried to rearrange everything that each previous change has unwittingly affected elsewhere along your timeline! But let's not go there.
If I could travel back in time I might be tempted to tell my younger self that becoming a church leader would not be worth the pain and sadness that it brought into my life, but then I'd miss out on doing some remarkable things with some remarkable people. I'd miss out on all that experience of seeking to help people, of learning how to do that to the best of my ability (even if they didn't appreciate it!), and the spiritual and emotional growth that comes through all of that.
Over the weekend I got one of those reminders that nothing is ever wasted. Someone once said that God does make junk, but there are times when I have to say that looking at my life I feel I've had cause to question that assertion! There is much that I would change if I could, but I can't. There are some poor decisions that I would change, some habits I'd like to change, some issues I'd address much sooner than I did.
Our last two years in full-time church leadership were pretty tough. In fact they were the just about the worst two years we've been through. At the end it felt as though everything we'd done over the previous twenty years was just rolled up like old newspapers and thrown in the bin. We, I, felt totally rejected and discarded. It felt like a complete waste of my life. It still does some days. If I could go back in time, I'd probably be tempted to avoid those two years at all costs. If I did, we wouldn't be where we are today.
This weekend I was reminded that God doesn't waste things, he doesn't make junk. It came in two unlikely conversations.
In the first I heard the story of one person's working life and how failing in one area brought success in another. They could have persevered and passed a particular exam and that would have taken them down one route, but instead, having failed, they went in a new direction which turned out to be far more successful for them.
The second conversation came about because someone recognised in me something that they needed. Through simple conversations we'd built a relationship and now they needed someone with whom they could talk through a challenging situation and they called me.
All those years of heartache and questioning have shaped the pastoral side of my life. Without it I'd probably be no use to that person, I'd probably not have been able to see the lessons from the first story in the way I could, and I wouldn't have been able to provide the listening ear of a critical friend in the second.
Interesting isn't it, that if I could travel in time I would probably change so many things that I doubt I'd have been there for this friend in need. I'd have studied sports therapy or become a physiotherapist. I might have been working with elite athletes or weekend warriors. Who knows.
I am what I am, as Popeye used to say, but unlike Popeye I know I am not all I could be. In God''s hands he continues to shape my life, and he continues to use everything I've experienced to shape me. I seem to remember that Michael Angelo was once asked how he turned a lump of marble into a beautiful carving of a horse. "Simple," he said, "you just chip away everything that doesn't look like a horse."
My prayer for this Monday morning is that God will continue to chip away everything that doesn't look like the life he wants for me. If it doesn't look like a horse yet, that's because it isn't finished!